By Fr. Phillip Kembo, Catholic Parliamentary Liaison Office- ZCBC Focal Person on Migrants and Refugees
“Tell me what to do Father, I have nothing to go back for.” The past three weeks have been hard for me, to come to terms with these words of Simon, a migrant from DRC, who was fleeing from the Eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, due to the clashes between some people from DRC and Rwanda. The conflict consists of cross-border attacks by armed groups and this, according to Simon, has led to loss of many lives who are unaccounted for. Due to this conflict, Simon lost his wife and his three-year old child, while his home was burned down. This prompted him to escape and save his life and that of his five-year old daughter.
Struggling to speak due to the pain of all he had lost, hunger and tiredness, one could not miss noticing his eyes full of tears of anger. His facial expressions would silently narrate the story of what he has gone through. The small satchel held under his armpits, contained all he was left with in his life. Simon looked determined, like Jesus heading to Jerusalem, focusing on his destination and wishing nothing and no one to stop him to proceed. The colour of his grey shirt was almost taking the texture of his skin, which had probably last known water for a number of days, if not a week. However, thanks to the unrecognised ‘charitable ministry’ of cross-boarder transporters, who took turns to move this new family, from the conflict area towards their ‘new home,’ be it in police custody, a refugee camp or into Mozambique or South Africa. What he just wanted, was the survival of his child and to fend for her.
Looking at the young child, one could not avoid thinking and imagining the story of Joseph in Matthew 2:14, holding Jesus as he crossed into Egypt, when Pharoah sought to terminate the live of the only child of the young family. The young child clung to her dad and one could tell, that she had all her trust in him that he would safely take her to a safer place while thinking that one day, dad will go back and bring mom and her brother to the new home. (She never knew that she would never see her mom and brother again. May they rest in the peace of Christ).
The pain of being a migrant parent is in putting hope in the lives of those who look up to you. Simon was, to his daughter, that beacon of hope, that as once sung by Morgan Heritage, “I’m coming home baby just hold on … everything should be alright.” With such a story and a scenario, he said to me and the policemen who had arrested him, for being in the country illegally, “Father and you my brothers, Tell me what to do.” That was my first time to experience that, when the story is genuine, even the police give a safe passage to the needy, while I took something from Sister Maria’s donation, for the desperate family’s upkeep and for the driver, to take this family safely into South Africa.
In reflection to the words of the Holy Father, Pope Francis in preparation to celebrating the 107th World Day of Migration and Refugees on September 25, 2022, he urges everyone amidst the issue of Migrants and refugees, to reflect on the words, “A future for all men and women,” by putting the most vulnerable at the centre. Does Simon and his daughter in the above incident, have a future? If these have a future, this challenges every person to answer Simon’s question, ‘Tell me what to do?’ Thus, telling Simon what to do, will determine his future and that of his daughter. When John the Baptist preached, people asked, What shall we do. John gave them the direction, “Whoever has two cloaks should share with the person who has none.” (Lk.3:10-18). Many people believed in him and thought he was the Christ.
The migrants or the refugees in our midst today, have placed their hope in those they meet during their challenging moments, to provide some future in them by telling them what to do. As part of humanity, they are entitled to a future as men and women and as youth or children. Leaving their homes and losing everything, as well as everyone they had known, they have lost all sources of their security and embark on a journey into the unknown. As they sit in the bus next to you, or as we by-pass them while driving or walking, in their minds as migrants, they are trying to get the answer as to what they should do to be safe. While others ask for help, some due to unanswered questions in their minds, end up retreating from everyone and silently take their own lives because no one dares to know who they are. Jesus in Mathew 25, calls humanity to be humane, by providing for each other, through feeding the hungry, clothing the naked and visiting the sick and those in prison. To a migrant or a refugee, the hunger, the thirst or the isolation could be in mind, and his or her failure to belong, wondering as to who is my neighbour amongst the new people he or she is encountering in the new community. Any of us, can bring a change in the life of a migrant or refugee, by either listening to their story as an individual or through those who work closely with them, who tell them what to do and sometimes, who pass on the donation you send.
Creating a future for Simon and his daughter, and many migrants in this situation, demands not only pastoral counselling, but a helping hand, to feed the visitor on transit and sometimes, safe place to call in and share their story as they heal the wounds they acquire during their journey. The words of the Holy father, to provide a future to such people on transit due to wars, famine, broken families, and in search of a living, challenges humanity to channel some of its resources, towards improving these people’s well-being. Where is Simon today? What of his daughter and what will she be? If humanity turns a blind eye to these, ‘think twice, because it is another day for you and me in Paradise.’ What these need from us as part of humanity, is to be sensitive and tell them what to do and if we can, provide a bit of our ‘viaticum,’ for their journey in the form of food or clothing.
As ministers to these people on transit, I humbly ask the world at large, what shall we also tell them, as we meet these vulnerable people even sometimes minors. Your answer, will make true the wish of the Holy Father, to put the most vulnerable at the centre and provide a future to them. Where is Simon and his daughter today and did he reach his destination safely? Many migrants have been abused, drowned in rivers or seas, raped or even taken back to the very place and environment they are escaping, only to be terminated. The answers and attitude we give to Simon and his daughter and all migrants, provide them with a future or even a death sentence.